How to study for free in South Africa in 2024/25

South Africa, as a developing nation, recognizes the importance of higher education for its citizens. Over the years, various organizations and government bodies have introduced numerous initiatives and programs to help people study for free in South Africa.

In this guide, you will find out the necessary information on how to study for free in South Africa, focusing on the available resources and opportunities for both local and international students.

How to study for free in South Africa

Just follow the guide below to help you study for free in South Africa:

1. Use SA government-funded initiatives

An example of a South African government initiative is the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), a government-funded program that offers financial assistance to deserving South African students who cannot afford to pay for higher education.

To qualify for NSFAS and study for free in South Africa, you must meet specific academic and financial criteria, which are outlined on the official NSFAS scholarship website.

Another Sa government initiative is the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme. This initiative promotes teaching as a profession in South Africa. It offers financial support to students pursuing a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree or a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).

Successful applicants receive full-cost funding, covering tuition, accommodation, meals, and books. In exchange, recipients are required to teach at a public school for the same number of years as they received the bursary.

2. Apply for university scholarships and bursaries

First, consider securing one of the merit-based scholarships to study for free in South Africa.

Many South African universities offer merit-based scholarships to outstanding students. These scholarships are awarded based on exceptional academic performance, leadership qualities, or extracurricular achievements.

Generally, merit-based scholarships are highly competitive and require an excellent academic track record. Research your chosen institution’s scholarship offerings on their official website or contact the university’s financial aid office for more information.

Alternatively, you can apply for “Needs-based bursaries” which target students who demonstrate financial need to help you study without paying in South Africa.

Bursaries are offered by individual universities, and the application process and eligibility criteria vary across institutions. So, you have to visit the official website of the chosen institution or consult their financial aid office for further details.

3. Private sector and non-profit funding scholarships

Many private companies, non-profit organizations, and foundations in South Africa offer scholarships and bursaries to deserving students. They can also be referred to as NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

These organizations often focus on specific areas of study, such as engineering, medicine, or agriculture. Some examples of these funding opportunities include:

a. Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation offers full-cost scholarships to students pursuing undergraduate degrees in commerce, science, engineering, law, or humanities. The Foundation selects candidates based on academic performance, entrepreneurial potential, and financial need.

b. South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR)

SAIRR offers bursaries to financially disadvantaged South African students pursuing undergraduate degrees in various fields, including science, engineering, and commerce. The bursaries cover tuition fees, books, and accommodation.

4. Online education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Online education has grown in popularity, and many universities and educational institutions offer free or low-cost courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs provide an opportunity for students to access a world-class education without incurring hefty tuition fees. Some popular MOOC platforms include Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn.

Although these courses might not lead to formal qualifications, they can help you gain valuable knowledge and skills relevant to your field of interest.

5. Study at a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges provide practical, occupation-specific training that aims to prepare students for the job market.

In South Africa, there are 50 public TVET colleges, which offer courses in various fields, including engineering, business, agriculture, and tourism to help you study for free in South Africa.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) provides bursaries for students enrolled in TVET colleges to cover tuition, accommodation, and other study-related expenses. To apply for a TVET bursary, contact the financial aid office at your chosen college or visit the DHET website for more information.

6. Apply for Community Education and Training (CET) Colleges

CET colleges aim to provide basic education and training to adults who did not complete their schooling or want to improve their skills.

CET colleges offer courses in adult basic education and training (ABET) and vocational skills development.

These programs are often free or available at a low cost, making them an accessible option for individuals looking to enhance their employability or further their education.

7. International scholarships and exchange programs

South African students can also benefit from international scholarships and exchange programs, which can cover the cost of studying abroad. These opportunities often include tuition, accommodation, and other living expenses. Some examples of international scholarships to study for free in South Africa include:

a. Mandela Rhodes Scholarship

The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship offers full-cost funding for a postgraduate degree at a South African university of the scholar’s choice. The program focuses on leadership development, community service, and academic excellence.

b. Commonwealth Scholarships

The Commonwealth Scholarships are awarded to students from Commonwealth countries, including South Africa, who wish to pursue a Master’s or PhD degree in the United Kingdom. The scholarships cover tuition fees, living expenses, and travel costs.

To find more international scholarships and exchange programs, consult the South African Department of Higher Education and Training or visit scholarship websites like

Steps to apply for free study in South Africa

Follow these steps to increase your chances of securing funding for your studies:

1. Research available scholarship opportunities

First, research the various scholarships, bursaries, and financial aid programs available to students in South Africa.

Look for government-funded initiatives, university scholarships, private sector funding, and international scholarships. You can also consider online education, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, and Community Education and Training (CET) colleges.

2. Check if you’re eligible

Once you have identified potential opportunities, carefully read through the eligibility criteria for each program. Ensure that you meet the requirements, such as academic performance, financial need, field of study, or nationality.

3. Prepare the requirements

Your next step is to prepare the necessary documents required for your application, such as your academic transcripts, proof of financial need, identification documents, and any other relevant certificates or awards.

Make sure you have certified copies of all required documents.

4. Submit a motivation letter

A strong motivation letter to study for free in South Africa can set you apart from other applicants. In your letter, explain why you deserve the funding, highlighting your academic achievements, career goals, and how the program will help you contribute to your community or South Africa as a whole.

5. Obtain references

Most funding opportunities require letters of recommendation from teachers, professors, or employers.

Reach out to individuals who can vouch for your character, academic abilities, and potential for success in your chosen field.

6. Apply early

Keep track of the application deadlines for each funding opportunity, and make sure to submit your applications on time. Late applications are often not considered.

When submitting your applications, carefully complete the application forms for each program, and ensure that you provide all the necessary information and attach the required documents. Double-check your applications for accuracy and completeness before submitting them.

7. Monitor your application status

After submitting your application, regularly check your email or the program’s website for updates on your application status. If required, attend interviews or submit additional information as requested by the funding organization.

I always advise students to explore multiple opportunities. Never rely on just one funding source; apply for as many scholarships, bursaries, and financial aid programs as possible to increase your chances of receiving financial support.

Ultimately, you also need a backup plan for your funding. Even if you have applied for numerous funding opportunities to study for free in South Africa, it’s essential to have a backup plan in case you don’t secure funding. Consider part-time work, study loans, or affordable online courses as alternative options.

Read also: updated European scholarship opportunities for Africans

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